With four decades of surfing experience behind him, from representing New Zealand in international competitions to founding a surfing publication to building surfboards to establishing one of the nation’s leading surf shops, what Mike Spence doesn’t know about wave-riding isn’t worth knowing.
“You could say I have a triple degree in the sport!” chuckles the amiable boss. “And now I’ve taken that all into retail.”
Freeride is celebrating its tenth anniversary, and Mike is thrilled with the evolution of his clientele over that period. “Surfing has a far broader following now,” he says. “Whole families are getting involved, in part because people are looking for things that aren’t built around digital technology. They want to reconnect with our natural environment.”
The evolution of surfboard technology, he adds, has helped attract newcomers to the sport, too.
“The soft surfboard has been one of the most significant developments as it means that people getting out on the waves for the first time are far less likely to injure themselves. This has also really helped boost the surf school business. At the other end of the spectrum, the fibreglass boards are extremely technical, aimed at the high-end guys heading to places like Indonesia and Fiji, while the well-rounded shapes cater to those at mid-level.”
Developments in wetsuit technology also means that even during the winter months surfers can remain out on the water for longer without noticing a chill.
But most importantly, with summer and those longer days rolling in, there’s “no excuse” to not get out there before and after work.
“West Auckland might not always have the best waves in New Zealand, but they are certainly the most consistent,” says the surfer, who names Piha as his favourite local spot. “That’s the beauty of this region.”
What does surfing mean to you on a personal level?
“It’s that little bit of an opportunity to get some Zen time away from the toils of everyday society. It gives you time to think, to get that does of serotonin from the sun and experience the invigoration of the water. That’s what most people will take out of surfing, whether they’re just starting out or are experts. That physical excursion, that splash in the ocean before getting back to reality.”
Fortunately for Mike—and his customers—that everyday reality remains intrinsically entwined with his life passion, with Freeride established as one of the nation’s most trusted retailers for surfers and skaters alike. “We attract people from all over because we’re quite unique,” says Mike. “We’re very hands on, very customised, and people like that—especially the core guys. We know what we’re talking about here, we’re not about the hard sell and our customers know that they will leave with what will work best for them.”
It’s a bit of a family affair too, further adding to Freeride’s charm. “My wife and four daughters all surf, and one of them, Bianca, works here with me,” he says. “She can handle a talk with any ‘surf dude’! And when I get all of the girls in the van and down to the beach, then that’s my idea of the ultimate success.”